Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Zabludovsky and his legacy

Jacobo Zabludovsky and I left television at about the same time – he as a broadcaster and I as a viewer.  It was 1999, and after facing the barrage of reviews of the year, decade, century, and millennium all compounded by the hysteria around Y2K, I decided I’d had enough. I turned off the tv and haven’t turned it back on, a decision with which I’m still delighted.

In 2000 Zabludovsky left the television network he’d worked with since the 1950’s. For 27 of those years he was the host of “24 Horas”, the most-viewed television news program in Mexico. In the early years Zabludovsky broadcast the news seated at a desk cluttered with telephones and a nameplate with the program’s logo prominently displayed, wearing huge earphones.  Thankfully in time he gave up the earphones and the array of telephones. He still wears his recognizable large lensed glasses.

Don Jacobo is a Mexican icon, recognized by people in all walks of life and levels of society.  Most any Mexican of that era with access to a tv remembers Zabludovsky.

Once, while waiting at a stoplight, Zabludovsky was approached by a woman selling lottery tickets.  “Are you Licenciado Zabludovsky?”  she asked. He replied affirmatively, to which she answered, “No wonder you look so much like him.”

One of Don Jacobo’s trademarks is to field calls from listeners and on occasion initiate calls on-the-air.   I was at the wake of artist Jesus Guerrero Galvan in 1973 when Zabludovsky called and broadcast it live on “24 Horas”.  Year’s later, when Guerrero Galvan’s daughter Flora led a demonstration in front of the National Palace defending a Cuernavaca urban forest, I called Zabludovsky suggesting it would be a good event to cover.  Flora’s cellphone battery was down so I gave him the phone number of a newsstand she had just called me from.  He called, interviewed Flora on the air, and then asked her to pass the phone to the newsstand vendor, who he then interviewed.

Last Wednesday Jacobo Zabludovsky was feted on the occasion of his 70th anniversary as a journalist in print, radio, and television.  In the courtyard of his elementary school, in front of uniformed primary students and flanked by the President of the Republic and Mexico City’s head of government, he spoke in short, concise sentences about his childhood and the public school education he had received.
Zabludovsky recalled that Abelardo Rodriguez was president in 1934 when five-year-old Jacobo entered Escuela Peru on San Jeronimo Street.

“As a student I experienced government officials dedicated to education and the formation of new citizens.  They took on education as a mission when we were still caught up in the mystical transformational revolution summed up in the Constitution of 1917.

“Lazaro Cardenas took office in December 1934 and amended the Constitution to say education will be socialist and will give a scientific view of the universe.  Perhaps that’s why in addition to learning the National Anthem we learned The Internationale in Spanish and The Marseillaise, in French!“

Don Jacobo said that his six years of grade school “were years that marked the world and Mexico.”  In 1934 Adolf Hitler started ruling Germany. In 1935 Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. “In 1936 a group of military officers rose up against the legally established government in Spain in a war that lasted three years and put Francisco Franco in power.  In 1938 we fifth graders were filled with emotion when President Cardenas called for our support when he expropriated the oil companies.  In 1939 World War II broke out.”

Addressing the children, he said “It was here where we learned to add, subtract, multiply, and divide but more importantly we learned the value of camaraderie and compañerismo regardless of our origin.  Our teachers were our pride.  They left an imprint on generations of Mexicans.  I remember each of my teachers with the greatest of affection.  Here, in January 1934 my first grade teacher Josefina Huitrón taught me my first life-lesson.  She taught me to hold a pencil and in doing so she marked my life.”

At age 85 Don Jacobo is still going strong. He has a two hour daily radio program called “De Una a Tres”, which as you can guess is on from 1 to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. Don’t worry if you miss it because it’s repeated every two hours on into the night.

In those two hours Zabludovsky takes his listeners though breaking news of the day, cultural events, and reports from correspondents throughout the country, the US, and Spain.  He keeps listeners posted on background information about the players in the news.  He’s very careful with syntax -- frequently including commentary on the Spanish language itself.  Jacobo is generous with his knowledge of Mexico City -- especially the Historical Center of the city where he grew up -- its streets, landmarks, and restaurants.

I highly recommend the program to people fluent in Spanish.  Don Jacobo brings 70 years of experience and historical context to each topic.  I always take away much more than the news.